Every year farmers plant corn on close to 80 million acres of land throughout the United States. This much-critiqued staple of American agriculture is incredibly resource intensive. To produce 200 bushels, an acre of corn requires 160 pounds of nitrogen and 600,000 gallons of water. And these “inputs,” as they are called, have consequences. Read more
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In 2010, when I was on tour promoting my book Diet for a Hot Planet: The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork and What You Can Do About It, I felt lonely. Not because no one was showing up for my book talks, they were. And not because I was alone; with my nine-month-old daughter in tow, I was never by myself. I felt lonely because, back then, there were very few of us talking about the connections between food and climate change, despite the fact that the global food system—from field to plate to landfill—is responsible for as much as one third of all greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs).
In just a few years that has changed. Somewhat. Read more
For years, beef has been Public Enemy Number One for environmentalists and health advocates alike. Headlines warn that livestock production, particularly for cattle, poses the worst environmental risk than anything else in the world, and that eating red meat can substantially increase your chance of dying from heart disease or cancer.
If you’re like most good food advocates, calling for a drastic reduction in beef production is a no-brainer. Right?
Nicolette Hahn Niman, vegetarian rancher, environmental lawyer, and wife of Bill Niman, founder of the eponymous Niman Ranch, lays out a compelling case in her new book Defending Beef: The Case for Sustainable Meat Production. As she sees it, if we want to fight climate change, we may want to actually raise more cattle. Read more
Conventional farming usually gets a bad climate rap. That’s because, in one way or another, food production accounts for up to a third of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
Some seep directly from agricultural soils, but others stem from transportation, farm machinery, and the substantial carbon footprints of synthetic fertilizers and other inputs. These indirect emissions add to the environmental impacts of staple crops like corn and wheat, oft-vilified grains that feed much of the world’s population.
But a new paper, published today in the journal Nature Communications, offers a slice of good news. The study found that a combination of a few basic farming practices boosted wheat production and put heaps of carbon back into the soil–more than enough to compensate for the GHGs emitted in the process of growing it. Read more
Good food advocates have long argued that what’s best for your health is also best for the planet, but new science now backs up the claim. A paper published today in the journal Nature by scientists at the University of Minnesota, presents hard numbers that suggest eating less meat, less refined fat, and less sugar will also reduce the climate change impacts of food production.
Using about 50 years’ worth of data from the world’s 100 most populous countries, UM Professor of Ecology G. David Tilman and graduate student Michael Clark show how current diet trends are contributing, not only to diet-related illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease, but also to dangerously increasing agricultural greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). Read more
In the quest to shave off distance from field to plate, today’s chefs and restaurants have devised a range of creative solutions–from growing tomatoes on their own rooftops to sourcing fruit from their customers’ backyards.
The Perennial, a soon-to-open San Francisco eatery, plans to take the business of local sourcing several steps further. Many of the greens and herbs the restaurant serves will be grown in a closed-loop aquaponic system based across the Bay in Oakland. And when chef Chris Kiyuna wants to serve say, some sorrel or sprigs of purple basil, he’ll be able to harvest them from the “living pantry”–an area of the restaurant where the greens will float until just moments before they’re served. Read more
Genetically engineered (GE) seeds are often sold to farmers and the public on the grounds that they are the wave of the future, taking over where conventional plant breeding left off by improving productivity and sustainability. But that might be changing. Read more
At Nopalito, if the local corn runs out, you might as well shut the doors. It’s typical for the restaurant’s two San Francisco locations to go through 200 pounds of California-grown organic masa in a single day. The grain is at the menu’s core, used in everything from tamales, to tortillas, to house-made chips. Read more
Ricardo Sangüesa, a small avocado farmer, is staring out over a dry, cracked landscape. But he’s not in California; he’s in the Ligua Valley, in central Chile. Stray dogs wander through the empty Ligua riverbed, which is littered with trash. The only green he can see are the avocado trees, which grow in green squares that form a peculiar patchwork along the sides of the valley. According to Sangüesa, the river has been drained to feed the trees.
“Because they’re overexploiting the water by throwing it at the hills, the river has dried up,” he explains. “It’s as if someone used a paper towel to suck up the river.” Read more
Amidst heated discussions of global policy change, greenhouse gases, and emissions caps, food and farming–and the impact they are having on our changing climate—were also in the spotlight. After all, agriculture is one of largest contributors of human-caused emissions. Read more